“This is where my secret brother died,” Timmy said, leaning his bike against a large ash tree and pointing at the wooden bench down the dirt trail. He lifted his helmet off and tucked it under his arm, exposing his freshly cut blonde hair.
“What did you say?” Kristen asked as she set her own larger bike on the ground. Hers was a twelve speed, not great for off-roading, but she had kept up with the kid okay. She paused to gather her long black hair into a ponytail, a hair-tie pinched between her lips.
“My secret brother. This is where he died,” he said, pointing again at the bench. It was a wooden seat with leaning back, stained mud brown in accordance with all signs and structures in the park. The sun peaked through the leaves overhead, sprinkling late autumn light on the pebbled path as Timmy walked toward the bench.
“Timmy, why would you say something like that?”
“Because it’s true,” he said, voice rising to that patented whine little boys use when defending a statement as absolute truth. “It happened right here.”
Timmy sat down on the bench, skinny legs stretching to reach the needle strewn path. He scooted to one side to make room, and Kristen took a seat next to him.
“Really,” she said, leaning forward to stretch her back. “And what was your secret brother’s name?”
He scuffed his sneaker in the dirt, drawing circles with the tip. “It was Timmy, silly. I woke up in the woods one day and I found him riding his bike. We laughed and played chase for a while, and then he died. Right here.”
“That’s a really sad story, buddy,” Kristen said, frowning. She combed her fingers through the boy’s damp hair. “Do you think there’s another secret brother out there?”
“Not for me.” Timmy sat up and stared through the canopy, eyes welling with tears as they stared at broken blue sky through the darkening leaves. “I’m all alone.”
Kristen pulled him off the bench and laid her hands on his small, knobby shoulders. His head bowed down and she pushed his chin up so their eyes met. “Hey, that’s not true. I know it’s hard getting used to your dad and mom not living together, but you are not alone. They love you, and I love you too.”
“Yeah,” Timmy sniffed, trying to smile.
“Lots of kids have gone through this. It stinks, but everything will seem like normal in a while. And you can always talk to me. Okay?”
“’Kay,” he repeated with a little more resolve.
Kristen pulled out her phone to check the time. “Hey, it’s almost five o’clock. Your mom is going to be home soon. We should probably –”
A branch snapped loudly in the woods behind them. Followed by another, and another. Someone was walking around them. Kristen stared into the pine littered shadows. She hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten, sitting there in the evening shade. Gooseflesh pebbled on her arms.
“Hello??” she called out, creeping closer to the underbrush at the edge of the trail. “Is someone there?”
“My secret brother!” Timmy shouted behind her, unable to contain his excitement. “Did he come back?”
Kristen turned back to him and placed a finger over her lips. “Shhhhh!”
She crept into the woods, still hearing the lumbering footsteps break through the deadfall. Black husks of oak, pine, and ash rose through the leafy floor, but she saw nothing moving. Then her eyes found bright blue fabric half buried in the leaves about ten feet away. She stepped around a log and picked it up. It was torn and filthy, but she recognized it immediately. Timmy’s New York Giants hoodie. It had to be. Kristen had heard his mother harping on him last week about losing it.
“Hey Timmy!” Kristen called to him. “I think I found something you’ll be interested in.”
“Me too!” his far away voice shouted back. “Come quick!”
Kristen picked her way through the trees, pushing through the thin, scratchy branches with her hands as she snuck past. She came into the clearing. Timmy stood by the bench, just where she’d left him, and standing beside him was a naked woman.
Kristen froze. The naked woman was her. Same body, same face. Dark hair hung loose around her slightly downturned face and a light smirk played on her lips. She stared at Kristen with cold, brown eyes that looked like hers, yet didn’t.
“Kristen,” Timmy said, beside himself with excitement. “Come meet your secret sister! She wants to play with you.”
The two of them smiled at Kristen then, the corners of their mouths stretching to reveal incredibly long, pointed teeth. Teeth like demons.
Kristen screamed in terror as her conscious mind let go. She dropped the sweatshirt and bolted into the woods. And her secret sister gave chase. They played until dark and it was time to go home.
no shirt. no shoes. no dice!
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